This five part series expands on my answer to the question from Children’s Ministry Think Tank #5 on the Ministry-to-Children.com website. In my response to the question:
“How do you teach the doctrine of sin to children without harming their self-esteem? Especially with preschool children, how explicitly do you teach them about their own depravity? How do parents in your ministry respond to these issues?”
I noted five areas I believe children must be taught about sin in order to fully understand the concept. Those were:
- What is sin?
- Where does it come from?
- Who sins?
- What are the consequences of sin?
- What is the solution for sin?
In this installment, we will look teaching kids the answer to the question “What Is Sin?”
What is Sin?
At a very young age (2-4), it is hard for children to understand much more than the idea that sin is the bad things that we do. As children get older I think it is important to expand on that very rudimentary definition. Sin is not just the bad things that we do. It is also those things that we should do that we don’t. It is the things that we think and attitudes that we have. Sin is essentially doing what we want to do when we want to do it rather than doing what God would have us do. In other words, sin is when we act like our own god instead of letting God be God.
I find that kids are actually quite in tune with this concept. They know that they make bad decisions, and have bad thoughts, and don’t always do what they are supposed to. Whether kids’ parents spank them, or have “talks” with them, or put them in timeout, kids understand what it means to sin. It is more a matter of getting them to understand that those things are sins than anything else. Concrete examples of sin that kids can relate to are best at the elementary age.
At some point, it is critical that kids understand that sin is more than just an issue of behavior. It is important that they understand that sin comes from the heart (Matthew 15:18-19). Behavior can be corrected without ever addressing the sin problem, and it is important that kids understand that sin is less about the specific action and more about the heart attitude that gives rise to that action. With elementary age kids, I think it is important to find ways for them to understand what their actions reveal about their hearts. For example, the girl at school who won’t sit with the new kid because her friends don’t like him reveals that the acceptance of those kids is more important to her than God – a sin. The child who watches T.V. when his parents say he should be doing his homework does not want to submit to authority – a sin. The little boy who hits his sister because she tries to borrow his building blocks has an issue with selfishness – a sin.
In conveying this idea that the outward action is not so much the sin as the underlying heart attitude that gives rise to the action, we lay the foundation for the later discussion about the solution for sin.